It’s fall. Pumpkins and cider. Foliage and sweaters. And football.
While the NFL struggles with its own public relations nightmares— accusations of child abuse and domestic violence, here in New Jersey incidents involving the sport are grabbing headlines.
In Sayreville, the school board cancelled the high school football season after reports of hazing by senior players against freshmen. The details are starting to emerge, including sodomy, that occurred on a daily basis.
The superintendent shared that his own son had been a victim of bullying, and given the criminal nature of the allegations, bravely cancelled the entire season. The community is outraged, claiming how football is in its blood. Little attention is given to the victims, who I imagine are afraid that by coming forward, they’ll become victims once again. The bystanders—who witnessed the crimes and others who knew about them—have remained silent.
In Lakewood, four football teammates were arrested for alleged involvement in a series of armed robberies.
In my town, Summit, last month, a silly tradition – blocking an open doorknob between adjoining locker rooms with a banana intended to prevent opposing teams from overhearing or peering in – was interpreted as a racial taunt by an opposing team comprised of mostly African American players.
Despite claims that this wasn’t the intent, the incident is being investigated by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the school has repaired the broken doorknob.
Looking at what’s going on at the national level, it’s not hard to imagine that some of this behavior began early. Bullying is repugnant. Victims aren’t the ones to blame; they need to be protected so they’re comfortable naming names. The players involved in these incidents and fellow team members need to reflect on the behavior and find productive ways to use their time. Let’s hope they learn about bullying and work to prevent it.